Analysts say Biden's abortion stance leaves reality behind

2012 Vice Presidential Debate Credit Chip Somodevilla Getty Images News Getty Images CNA US Catholic News 10 12 12 U.S. Vice President Joe Biden smiles during the vice presidential debate at Centre College October 11, 2012 in Danville, Ky. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's profession that he is personally opposed to abortion while supporting its legalization fails to acknowledge the life-taking reality of abortion, said critics including a prominent Notre Dame law professor.

"It is a matter of yes, or no, and there is no 'personal' as opposed to 'public' about it," said Professor Gerard V. Bradley. "The question is intrinsically, and entirely, public." 

Bradley told CNA on Oct. 12 that an analysis of the positions expressed by Biden and other "pro-choice Catholics" suggests that they "simply do not believe what the Church believes, namely, that abortion is the unjustified killing of a human person."

The connection between Catholicism and one's stance on abortion was discussed at the Oct. 11 vice presidential debate in Danville, Ky.

The 2012 presidential campaign marks the first time that Catholic candidates have run for vice president in both major parties. Moderator Martha Raddatz asked the candidates about their Catholic faith and the role it has played in shaping their contrasting views on abortion.

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said that his pro-life stance is the result of faith, reason and science.

"I don't see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith," he said. "Our faith informs us in everything we do."

In contrast, Biden argued that his support for legalized abortion is compatible with his lifelong Catholic faith, which he said "defines" his identity.
"Life begins at conception, that's the Church's judgment. I accept it in my personal life," he said. "But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others," Biden said.

Bradley said that this line of thought can be traced back to a small gathering of Catholic moral theologians in 1964 who met with the Kennedy family to discuss how one could "support liberalized abortion laws without overtly abandoning 'Catholic teaching' on the matter." 

The "personally opposed, but" view on abortion became well-known largely through Catholic politician Mario Cuomo, the former New York governor and presidential candidate who laid out his beliefs in a 1984 speech at Notre Dame, he said.

But Bradley said that "efforts such as those of Cuomo and the Kennedys and of Joseph Biden last night utterly fail."

Their "central flaw," he explained, is a failure to acknowledge "what it is that one is actually opposing." 

He observed that "if one judges - as everyone should and as the Church does - that the reason to oppose abortion is the reason to oppose killing any other innocent human person, then the 'personally opposed, but' position sounds ridiculous."

"The reason is that such killing is objectively, and gravely, wrong, a great injustice," he said, noting that no one says they "personally oppose" killing those with Lou Gehrig's disease but think the state should refrain from passing laws against such killing. 

When the question is examined clearly, Bradley said, "the issue before public authority when it comes to abortion is the equal protection of the laws against killing."

"The question is not one's 'personal opposition' to anything," he explained. "The question is about public justice." 

Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor for the Catholic Association, told CNA that the vice president's comments show a "remarkable disconnect."

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"Vice President Biden said that he accepts that life begins at conception, but that he wouldn't impose that belief on others," she said. But the "very purpose of laws in a civil society are to impose limits and to protect the powerless."

Ferguson compared the vice president's position to saying that one is personally opposed to robbing someone at gunpoint but that "I won't impose my belief on others by supporting laws that protect people against robbery."

"His position is in direct conflict with the teaching of the Church on the foundational issue of respect for life," she added.  

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